Residents join to fight flooding
By Sue Tiffin
Published June 29, 2017
Rain pouring outside caused anxiety but did not deter frustrated residents who have been directly affected by repeated spring floods in Minden from organizing in a grassroots meeting on June 26.
A group of about 50 residents joined at the Dominion Hotel, including homeowners from Tiffany Lane, Spring Valley Road, Invergordon Avenue, Anson Street and Bobcaygeon Road. They assembled to share concerns and decide next steps to take in order to protect their homes and properties from what they believe will be continued regular flooding of the Gull River watershed. Extensive flooding has provoked two states of emergency in the area in the past four years, the most recent being this past May.
The meeting was moderated by Brigitte Gall, a resident of Anson Street, and Shawn Chamberlin, owner of the Dominion Hotel and Grill on the Gull, both on Bobcaygeon Road. Many in the group did not feel they had been given opportunity to be heard by township representatives prior to the first post-flood debriefing of the township emergency control group between the reeve, township staff and local agencies and provincial representatives which was taking place the next morning.
“The goals were two-fold,” said Gall, after the meeting. “What was the valid, critical and necessary information as understood by residents caught in this event that this council and the province needs to have and sift through in order to manage the next potential disaster better and more effectively. And then the second, much larger but more thorny issue – why are we not being heard, and what resources do we have at our avail to get the attention to this much larger issue addressed and acknowledged?”
Residents in attendance discussed their own experiences during the most recent flooding this past May, including damage estimates to their home, a timeline of events and public notices, the townships’ response to the emergency and how they had seen the water levels of the Gull River being managed. Information gathered by individuals was shared to the group, including ideas of flood prevention and mitigation.
“There were a lot of people who needed and wanted to do more than just ‘tell their stories and grieve,’” said Gall, after the meeting. “They want an assurance that our municipal council, staff and provincial partners are hearing us, and acknowledging that we are not content to simply be the catch basin for antiquated expectations of water management, climate change, and political hand wringing.”
The group discussed best practices moving forward, including recommendations that the township purchase emergency vehicles that could access flooded areas, that the snowmobile bridge by Anson Street be removed prior to the threat of flooding to prevent the slow flow of river water, that the river be reclassified from a living river to allow dredging, that recommendations made by the Minden Disaster Relief Committee in 2013 be acted on, that water management plans be reevaluated and the possibility of collaborating on legal action.
“How many times do we have to do this?” said Kirsten Monk, co-owner of the funeral home that has sustained repeated flooding, suggesting a class action lawsuit to a round of applause from some in the group.
“When people say, as residents of Minden, ‘oh, I wasn’t affected by the flood…everybody was affected by the flood,” said Kathy Rogers, to much agreement. “In terms of home values, attraction to business, attraction of people to come and live in Minden…do we want Minden to be a ghost town? That is going to be the logical consequence if we do not address the cause of this. Not buying more sand bags, another machine, that’s fine, that’s short-term, but the long-term aspect of this is what we need to be dealing with.”
The effects of climate change and the structure of the Trent Severn Waterway system were also broached. Patrick Walshe noted that what happens in regards to water management of the Gull River affects flooding in Toronto, Trenton and Montreal.
“This is much bigger than just those of us who live on the shores of the Gull River,” he said. “What we’re talking about impacts life in Haliburton and life downstream. We are in many ways the canary in the coal mine…So we take very seriously our obligation to make sure that there is a water management plan that makes sense for this community as well the communities that live down river from us.”
A letter summarizing the discussion, including recommendations and questions arising in the residents meeting were sent to Minden Hills council members and members of the township emergency control group on June 27, the morning of the debriefing.
Just before he went into that meeting, Reeve Brent Devolin said he had received the information but hadn’t had the chance to look at it yet.
He verified he had been asked to attend the residents meeting, but said he declined because he thought he would probably be the “elephant in the room.”
“My personal opinion, could I have attended and participated as just specifically a resident of Anson Street, no,” he said. “No, like that would have never happened.”
Devolin stressed that a public meeting was important and would take place, but that the township staff was still working in the recovery phase of the flooding event including dealing with a water main issue on Water Street, and “working furiously” to meet deadlines for submissions to obtain funding through the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP).
“What they don’t appreciate, the windows for opportunity for [a public meeting] are coming,” said Devolin. “The problem is, they see the water down in front of their house and think we’re done. The reality is we have many things in the process of this that we have to attend to that may not be self-evident.”
He noted staff was also catching up on regular responsibilities he said they had had to put on pause during the state of emergency.
“The reality is, that doesn’t roll out as fast as some people might like,” said Devolin. “We empathize with that, but the reality is there’s a time and a process and it may not happen as quickly as any of us would like.”
According to Devolin, at the upcoming Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference being held in Ottawa in August, Minden Hills is planning to make delegations to the minister of municipal affairs and MNRF as well as to the minister of environment and climate change. Devolin noted that there are 13 wardens, including himself, that are part of the warden’s caucus with more than half of the wardens having been affected by flooding in the past year who will be engaging in discussion regarding planning mitigation and infrastructure.
“As always, we’ve said along the way, from all of the people affected directly or indirectly by [flooding], we would love their thoughts to be submitted to us, and [they] absolutely will form a basis of our Emergency Plan 2.0,” he said.
Devolin said a date for a public meeting was expected to be discussed during the June 27 meeting. He hoped to have feedback from the public prior to the AMO conference.
Organizers of the citizens’ flood meeting have created a public Facebook group called Friends of the Gull River Watershed – Minden, Ontario and encouraged concerned residents to join.